WEI DONG, Crossroads No.4, 2015, ink and color on paper, 33.5 × 131.5 cm. Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery. 

Crossroads: Wei Dong

Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery
Hong Kong Mongolia China USA

The ten-day selling exhibition “Crossroads: Wei Dong,” hosted by Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, is presenting 21 works by the Inner Mongolia-born painter Wei Dong, covering the artist’s oeuvre of the past two decades from 1996 to 2015. The highlight of the show is the debut of his latest ink-and-color landscape paintings. It has been three years since Wei last had a solo exhibition in Hong Kong. A translation of the Chinese phrase “Shi Zhi Po,” the exhibition title is taken from Shui Hu Zhuang (1589), one of China’s great classical novels wherein Shi Zhi Po is a location that appears in the story. This same word can also be seen incorporated in his early paintings, which are inspired by the representation of sex and violence in Shui Hu Zhuang and his interest in the intersecting of art historical references from both the East and West.

Wei’s paintings concentrates on two major mediums: ink and color on paper and acrylic on canvas. In a recent interview discussing the exhibition, Wei explained to ArtAsiaPacific that he has no preference on deciding which mediums to use before he starts; instead, his choices depend on the time of day: “I normally use canvas during the day and paper at night, since using paper is easier to control compared to canvas, as the latter is strictly dependent on light.”

WEI DONGHorseback Rider No.1, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 167.6 × 163.8 cm. Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery. 

WEI DONGInterior Series No.1, 1999, ink and color on paper, 66.4 × 49.5 cm. Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery. 

Upon entering the gallery, visitors will first notice the nearly two-meter-tall painting Horseback Rider No.1 (2009), portraying a nude girl riding a white horse, whose flesh is pierced by arrows and an expression that is almost serene, with her eyes remaining closed and body relaxed. Influenced by 17th-century Italian Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647–52), Wei shared the story behind this work during the exhibition’s media reception. He disclosed that, ever since his childhood, he has carried a subconscious thought where he would envision himself being shot at while being chased by perpetrators, and the arrows would penetrate his body. After conversing with numerous people, including psychologists, Wei arrived at the conclusion that the vision is a result of his childhood insecurities, as well as a fear of being chased and victimized by others. It was through painting that Wei found an outlet to express these pent-up feelings. Horseback Rider No.1 invites viewers to engage with its spiritual and emotional pull; yet one is left confused by the juxtaposition of her calm facial expression and the certainty of her physical pain of being perforated by arrows.

Further in the gallery hangs the main feature of the exhibition: four new ink paintings from Wei’s series “Crossroads” (2015). Wei admits that these recent paintings are more peaceful than some of his other works, as the figures featured in them admix with their serene landscapes and natural beauty. He added, “These are not conventional landscapes though. My works are age-old figures dressed in Western-style robes. I am trying to send a thorough message by providing my audience an opportunity to ponder what [messages] the figures are subtly exchanging with one another. Rather than utilizing outraged figures, [here] I become more serene and deep. They are a way of expressing my love for the past.”

Compared to most of his early paintings, the presentation of sexual elements are more obvious in these latest works. With past paintings, Wei decided on a subject matter in advance, which was often filled with symbols and details to decode. In Interior Series No.1 (1999), for instance, two people can be seen sitting in front of a backdrop of a Chinese landscape with various Western elements incorporated into it. If observers do not pay close attention to it, they may not realize the painting contains strong explicit materials. On the other hand, in more recent canvas works, such as My Delacroix (2015) and Yesterday’s News (2015), the sexual connotations are unrestrained and direct. My Delacroix portrays a young female gently grasping her right breast through her posh clothes, with a condescending yet aroused look, while Yesterday’s News depicts a young female looking away with a curious gaze, holding a miniature limbless nude body with female genitalia on view.

The new works of Wei Dong employ a more harmonious palette, successfully delivering his thoughts through a comparably more direct use of erotic components in his paintings—an approach that signifies the maturation and sophistication of the artist.

“Crossroads: Wei Dong” is on view at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery until August 8, 2015.